It will be a case of who blinks first when title contenders East Bengal and Mohun Bagan re-draw battle lines at the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on Sunday for a place at the top of the I-League pyramid.
Celebrated as the Kolkata Derby, the intense rivalry between the two teams, which is entering its 97th year will see after a long time both Kolkata giants in contention for the trophy with East Bengal sitting at the top with 19 points from seven matches and Mohun Bagan breathing down their neck on 16 having played one match less.
Both outfits are unbeaten in the current I-League season so far and have shown enough depth in their arsenal to sway the odds in their favour.
“This match won’t decided the I-League. Even if we draw or lose, we are not out of title race,” Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen told reporters at the pre-match press conference.
“All my players have played big matches before. This will be eleven vs eleven battle and there is no focus on one individual,” Sen’s East Bengal counterpart Trevor Morgan said.
For East Bengal — the home team — who have not won the title for more than a decade now, this seems to be the best opportunity to lay their hands on their first crown since the National Football League was rechristened as the I-League in 2007.
A winning streak of six matches holds them in good stead going into the marquee tie.
Bagan, on the other hand, will look to plug the gaps in their defence which lay exposed against Colombo FC in the AFC Cup preliminary stage tie.
The Sri Lankan champions lost 1-2 and 2-4 on aggregate but had their player Seka John Yapo weave past four defenders to net the best goal of the match.
“Their defence is a problem for them,” Colombo FC coach Roomy Hassan had said after the match, to which Bagan tactician Sanjoy Sen had agreed.
Bagan, in all likelihood, will pair Brazilian central defender Eduardo Ferreira with Anas Edathodika as Kingshuk Debnath is still recovering from injury. This will be Eduardo’s first match since the goalless stalemate against DSK Shivajians last month.
This will also be a test for Bagan’s Haitian star Sony Norde to show his mettle in the biggest game of the Indian club football calendar.
Norde missed the last meeting between the two sides in April 2016 due to injury he picked up while playing for his national team.
Norde’s compatriot Wedson Anselme will also be licking his lips at the prospect of a new-look rival backline. Along with him, Trinidad and Tobago forward Willis Plaza will also aim to continue his good showing since joining East Bengal ranks this season.
All in all, this meeting will give an idea as to who is ahead in the two-horse race for the I-League title.